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spammers think you’re stupid

May 1, 2009

I receive a lot of spam on this blog—I’m sure everyone does—and Akismet catches most of it. But sometimes I like to go back and look at some of the spam comments out of curiosity. I received this one just last week:


I kno it has nothing to do with what you wrote, but have you ever heard of (ringtone site URL). They seems to promise free ringtones

PS. Dont be an ass, this is NOT spam 😉

It amazes me that people think they can get away with this type of crap. First of all, the spammer himself doesn’t appear to possess a high school education, as he cannot formulate a complete sentence. Secondly, he thinks that I will allow his comment to remain on my blog if he tells me not to be an ass.

I think we all can identify the ass is in this particular correspondence.

It got me thinking, though, about the effectiveness of spam campaigns. I rarely even bother to read something that looks like spam, and the spammers make it easy by branding themselves in everything they write: poor grammar, incorrect spelling, long URLs, claims of grandeur. Wouldn’t it be more effective to disguise spam by writing eloquently?

For example, if I wanted a link back to this web site, I could just find a blog similar to my own and leave a thoughtful comment, followed by a signature with my URL. Very simple. Technically I’m leaving the comment just to get the link, but since I’ve provided something useful it doesn’t appear that way.

It’s like those Nigerian scams. I still get at least one e-mail per week from someone who claims to be the executor of an estate totaling millions of dollars, asking if I will be the beneficiary. Don’t they realize that most of us are on to their game? Anyone who responds to such an e-mail has been living in a cave for the last five years.

I did receive a new spin on the same story a few weeks ago. The sender claimed to be an Iraqi war veteran whose legs were lost in enemy fire and who had found a cache of money in Iraq and wanted to smuggle it back into the States. Transparent, but at least original.

in which the author seeks help

April 28, 2009

Since I was still suffering from the same symptoms I reported last week (albeit in a lesser quantity), I finally made a doctor’s appointment. Grr. I was lucky, though, that my GP could see me at such short notice.

Her words after looking up my nostrils: “How do you breathe with all this congestion?”

She wrote me a script for an antibiotic, which seems to be the universal Band-Aid for symptoms that could be attributed to any number of specific illnesses. I wanted to say: “Hey, Doc, you think you could put a name to what I’ve got?”

But I was good, hardly sarcastic at all, and I consider this an improvement. I’m not exactly known for tact in the doctor’s office.

I remember a few years ago, when I had to get an ultra sound and two MRIs. The ultrasound was the kind where you have to drink six bottles of water beforehand, so when I got to the office I was already in a pissy mood because the desire to urinate was stronger than I’d ever experienced before.

They made me wait 30 minutes (“I’m sorry, ma’am, we have a backlog”), and they whisked me from the ultrasound machine to the MRI room. They let me use the bathroom, but by the end of the first 45-minute MRI, I had to go again.

The nurse says, “I’m sorry, Sam, but we really don’t have time. Let’s just get this last test over with, then you can go.

And I’m like, “No, I think I’m just going to go now.”

We argued for about five minutes over whether I could be permitted to use the bathroom, at which point I just said: “Look, either you let me use the facilities or I pee right now, on this machine, and ruin a multi-million-dollar piece of equipment.”

She looked at me funny and said tentatively, “You wouldn’t do that.”

I said, “My husband’s in the waiting room. You go ask him if I’d do that.”

To make a longer story a tad shorter, she let me go to the bathroom.

Anyway, I hope I’ll be feeling better now that I’ve spent $25 on a doctor’s visit and $10 for a generic prescription. Let’s hope.

in which the author expires from lack of sleep

April 24, 2009

I haven’t written in a very long time, so long that I’d almost forgotten what it was like to blog. There is a simple explanation for my silence: The common cold. Only this cold shouldn’t qualify as “common” in my book because I’ve never had anything like it.

It started with a sore throat about 11 days ago, then progressed to excessive sneezing, sinus congestion, low-grade fever and chills. Ear aches and coughing fits have come intermittenly.

But the major consequence of this not-so-common cold is MIND-NUMBING INSOMNIA. For some reason, the head-cold-that-won’t-die eliminates my ability to sleep for more than three hours at a time, regardless of how many Tylenol PM caplets I toss down my throat before bedtime.

It’s been 11 days and I haven’t slept more than four total hours in a single 24-hour period. I’m surprised I’m not hallucinating Jesus by now.

“But Sam,” you say, “lots of people sleep only a few hours each night and they do fine. Why are you being such a baby?”

I get that some people don’t need much sleep to function, but I’m not one of those people. I require a solid seven hours in order to behave remotely like a human, and I would prefer nine hours if they are available. I’m usually in bed reading before 9 p.m., asleep by 10, and rarely up before 5 a.m.

I guess I’m so congested that I can’t breathe in my sleep, so my body starts yelling WAKE UP BEFORE YOU DIE.

It is now 4 a.m. in sunny Texas and I’ve been up since one. I’ve cleaned the kitchen, dusted the bookshelves, rearranged our DVD collection and guzzled about three bottles of Robitussen. The weird thing is I don’t feel all that terrible right now (other than having to breathe through my mouth), but I instinctively know sleep isn’t an option.

What the hell? Do you have trouble sleeping when you’re sick? Does it make you want to check yourself into the hospital just so they’ll give you the good drugs?

Maybe I’m just a baby, but I need my sleep. Right now, I’d sell my entire book collection for a solid 12 hours of uninterrupted shut-eye.

Anyway, I’ve fallen drastically behind on just about every project in my life. My manuscript hasn’t been touched in days and I’m starting to go through withdrawal. The problem is looking at the computer screen makes my eyes hurt and the pressure in my sinuses increase, so I’ve been avoiding it like the plague.

Maybe today it will finally end. One can hope.


April 10, 2009

How would you feel if your mother published an erotic novel? Or a memoir detailing her sexual exploits with various men?

This is a reality that Anderson Cooper is currently facing, and he says he supports his mother’s literary career, regardless of where it takes her.

Several months ago, my mother invited me to see Sex and the City with her at the theater, and when I arrived to purchase my ticket, I discovered her husband was with her as well. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this movie, but watching naked actors simulate sex with your mother right next to you and your stepfather two seats down is not an experience most would care to repeat.

Lately, the fiction and non-fiction published by celebrities, in particular, continues to stretch the boundaries from contemporary fiction to what the New York Times calls “pure, unadulterated smut”. Maybe this isn’t a new thing at all, but I’ve definitely started to notice it more.

I’m all for freedom of speech and I find censorship unconstitutional. Obviously, anyone who writes erotica of any kind is someone’s wife, husband, mother, father, daughter, son, whatever. And since I don’t read or write erotica, my opinion on the subject is far less informed than someone who does.

Nevertheless, I thank my lucky stars that I have a prodigiously conservative mother who whispers the word sex if she has to mention it at all and says down there rather than naming a particular reproductive organ.

memories 2

April 7, 2009

In case you wanted to see some of my childhood memories:

winnie the pooh
Winnie-The-Pooh figurine. I love the word “Hunny” on the honey jar and the rich orange colors.

beatrix potter
Beatrix Potter figurines. When I was little, THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT was my favorite story, so my grandparents bought these for me. I’d forgotten all about them.


April 7, 2009

My apartment looks like a bomb went off in a toy store.

Last week, my mother and my stepfather had the bright idea to clean the attic. And by that I don’t mean they went on a spiritual retreat or got their heads shrunk by the Good Doctor Greene; no, they actually pulled everything out of their attic to sort through.

I’m sorry, but isn’t the attic a place where you can put boxes of junk you never want to see again? So when you die, your kids can try to separate the gems from the spider webs and rat feces?

Apparently not. They’ve been on a renovation kick for the last 18 months: re-flooring the entire house, painting the walls, landscaping the yard, and now digging my childhood treasures from the depths of the attic.

So my Mom shows up at my apartment this weekend with twelve boxes of crap. TWELVE BOXES. I live in a two-bedroom apartment, wherein one room is reserved for sleeping and the other is my office. Our two closets are packed to the gills with junk I can’t bear to give away, and the rest of the apartment is filled with essential stuff. You know, like furniture.

Nevertheless, I’m as sentimental as they come, never one to get rid of something that might bring tears to my eyes later. So I accept the boxes and stuff them all in my office so I can go through them at leisure.

All weekend, I sift through the boxes, cooing over every find like an expectant mother at Babies ‘R’ Us. My husband watches from a distance, his face disapproving, because he doesn’t keep anything and thinks my pack-rat mentality is one step away from psychotic.

And I’m like, “Honey? Do you see this? It’s my SESAME STREET LUNCHBOX. With a THERMOS!”

My baby blankets, the handmade toys my grandfather built, tiny glass figurines in the shape of cartoon characters, a set of Beatrix Potter collectibles, the stuffed animals I named after everybody in the cast of “Little House on the Prairie”.

It was like some sort of weird retro Christmas, and I’m sad to say I’m keeping every single box. However, I did manage to condense because some of that stuff is going on shelves so I can look at it every day and say, “THAT was my childhood.”

The most interesting find, however, was a thick plastic folder full of short stories I wrote on my mother’s typewriter as a kid. They have no literary value at all, but the stories bring back memories of sore fingers and a desperate need to get them down before they evaporated from my mind.

Thanks, Mom, for the memories.


April 3, 2009

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have children, and therefore I’ve never had the pleasure of sifting through thousands of baby names before finally deciding on the perfect one. Actually, from what I’ve seen, its less a pleasure than a pain in the ass.

The top three shelves of my desk are reserved for the reference materials I use most frequently in my writing: dictionary, thesaurus, almanac, key maps, various religious texts—you get the idea. Among them are three baby-naming books.

Why would a woman with no children need baby-naming books? Oh, yeah, that’s right, she’s a writer.

I’m one of those people who hates to get involved in a book where all of the characters are named Mary or John or Lisa or Kevin. I enjoy studying the origins of names and creating unique monikers that represent my characters’ heritages.

I’ve always wanted to use the name Sebastian in a book, for example, and there will forever remain a soft spot in my heart for Mercutio.

So the other day, I’m trying to think of a name for a new character I’ve decided to create, and I’m sitting at my desk with my glasses on crooked and a jumbo cup of coffee next to my right hand. My husband comes into the office to ask whether or not we remembered to buy light bulbs last time we went to H.E.B., and his eyes get all big when he sees the book I’m rifling through.

“This again?” he asks in that tentative voice men often use when they are disappointed or exasperated, yet don’t want their wives to know how they truly feel.

I look up from the book and smile. “Character,” I say. “Not baby.”

Back in the olden days (like three years ago) I wanted desperately to have children, and we went ’round and ’round the issue for what seemed like forever. At one time or another each of us has been on both sides of the table, and now that we’re finally on the same page I can understand his trepidation.

I don’t have to get pregnant or fill out adoption applications to understand, at least in part, the agony experienced when naming another human being. Sure, characters are fictional, but you know that once you pick out that name, you’ll say it thousands of times in your head while working—and probably even when you’re not.

What process do other writers use for choosing names for characters? Is it best to go with whatever pops in your head, or is research required?


April 2, 2009

Do you like to listen to music while you are writing?

Years ago, I couldn’t concentrate on anything with noise in the background. Whether I was finishing up homework or reading a book, music or television in the background disrupted my thought process and drove me crazy.

Now, however, I find I am inspired by music when I write. Most recently, I’ve been listening to every Savatage album every made while working on my novel, and during the Christmas season I typed along to Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Unlike most people I know, hard rock and metal are actually soothing to me. In college, when I was living in a tiny apartment with paper-thin walls, I drowned out the neighbor’s partying and fell asleep to Aerosmith and Dream Theater. My music tastes are more eclectic now, but my philosophy is still “the heavier the better”.

As far as my writing goes, I think I work better when listening to music because it’s the process of creation. A band like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, for example, is so complex and so beautiful that I can’t help but feel motivated when they are playing on my computer.

I think, “If I could create something as haunting and lyrical and mesmerizing as this, I can’t help but succeed.”

If you don’t believe me, watch this video of how one person was inspired to create by TSO’s “Wizards in Winter”. Pretty amazing.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, “Wizards in Winter


March 31, 2009

I’ve decided that if my writing career ever goes south, I’ll open a private investigation business. I think I could really get used to detective work, provided my clients offer up plenty of intrigue.

A while back, I mentioned a sociopathic family member whose evil ways have disrupted my life in ways unimaginable. I finally decided to take the offensive and began researching her on the Internet.

It’s amazing what a simple Google search can turn up, and I’m surprised I never thought of it before.

This particular person is a member of just about every social networking site on the Internet, and she has no trouble airing her dirty laundry for half the world to see. I suppose that is what I’m doing right now, but I like to think I behave with slightly more dignity.

And certainly I write with better grammar. Good Lord, it’s as if the girl never went to elementary school.

What I’ve discovered is that every time her name pops up in a search result, my stomach tightens with this overwhelming trepidation. What will I find on this web site? And will it completely turn my world upside down?

I’m no saint, and I hate to sound condescending, but either this family member is a world-class liar (which she is), or she’s committed far more felonious acts than I gave her credit for. And she brags about them. ONLINE.

It seems to me that if I were to engage in unlawful behavior under the cloak of darkness, I would avoid describing those exotic trysts even within the sanctity of my own journal. God forbid someone burglarize my house, discover the diary and publish it in the New York Times.

Writing about them on the Internet, though? That’s like begging to be caught.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about this person, it’s that she can’t stand not to be the center of attention. She is drawn toward the spotlight like a magnet to an iron pipe, and anything that draws her away from said attention incurs her wrath.

I’m sick to my stomach. Anyone have some Pepto?


March 30, 2009

As I mentioned last week, the air-conditioner in our apartment recently went on the fritz, and since we’re smart enough to rent rather than own, we simply called the front office and requested maintenance pay us a visit.

If only things were that simple. You always expect things to be easy, and are surprised when (for the thousandth time) complications ensue.

We didn’t realize the AC had entered its death throes until about 4:30 p.m., and the office closes at five. They assured us, however, that problems with the AC count as a “maintenance emergency”, so one of the guys would be knocking on our door shortly.

Needless to say, no one showed up.

I don’t tolerate the heat well, despite having grown up in Texas, and although our summer is just beginning to rev its engines, that night was miserable. During the winter, when it’s a balmy 48 degrees outside, my husband and I sleep with the bedroom window open and a small fan stuck in the opening so we can wring every last moment of blessed cold from the event.

Anyway, I didn’t sleep at all, but the maintenance guys arrived the next morning at 8:30 a.m., so I was pacified.

Two guys showed up, and here is what I learned:

The first guy, who is from El Salvador, has lived in this country for 8.5 years and is married to a German woman. They are thinking of moving back to El Salvador because it is beautiful and because they want to raise their children according to his cultural heritage.

The second guy, who is from Honduras, has worked for this apartment complex for the last 18 years. I know this because the first guy told me.

I know some Spanish because I used to work at stables and there is not a horse farm in Texas that doesn’t employ at least one or two Hispanic stable hands. Most of them are in this country illegally, but no one says anything because they work for pennies and don’t make a fuss.

Because of my experience at random barns, I can speak some Spanish—though, granted, my vocabulary is limited mostly to dirty words and equine jargon. None of which helps me when a maintenance guy is asking me something about my AC.

The first guy leaves for a few minutes to get something from the maintenance shed across the complex, and the second guy is tinkering with the thermostat. He turns to me and utters a few syllables of rapid Spanish, expecting me to understand what he’s said.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t understand a WORD OF ENGLISH.

Here’s the thing: I’ve got no problem with anyone moving to this country as long as they fill out the requisite paperwork and contribute to society. I’d venture to say that most people who live here are immigrants, even if their immigrant status might be ten times removed.

However, I do have a problem with people who move here from non-English-speaking countries and refuse to learn the language. Not only does this complicate everyone else’s life, but it can’t be easy for them.

Take a class? Watch American television. Buy a book. Whatever. Just learn the damn language—or at least enough of it to communicate effectively in public.

This first maintenance guys has lived here 8 years and is essentially fluent in English. He stumbles a couple of times, but when he doesn’t know a word, he asks what it might be and learns it right then and there.

But this second maintenance guy has lived here for nearly twenty years, yet he can’t speak a word of the language. And he works routinely with English-speaking people. And my AC DEPENDS ON HIM.